Today’s guest post was written by Ed Ammons.
My Beginnings written by Ed Ammons
Life, as I know it, began on the 1st day of October 1950, in a three room shack, in a holler called Wiggins Creek. Wiggins Creek is in the Needmore community of Swain County, North Carolina. The house wasn’t at the end of the road, it was past the end, unless you happened to be driving something with 4-footed drive like a mule or team of goats.
My Mommy told me that I was blue when I was born and that they had trouble keeping me breathing all night until daylight when Dr. Mitchell got there. I was delivered by Lula Sanders, who was known as a midwife in the Needmore area. I don’t know whether she had any medical training, but her husband, Oscar, had been a medical corpsman in the Army.
I am the 2nd child of a family of 6. The oldest of us, Harold, was born in 1949 I know not where. Then it’s me. Then Rhoda, born in 1951, maybe in a hospital, maybe not. Then came Freda Lois, 1953-2002. Freda was born in a hospital, as were Stephen, born July 24, 1955 and Doris born in 1957.
Our Daddy was Fred Ervin Ammons, born 1919 in Swain North Carolina to Allen Clingman Ammons and Flora Buena Cunningham. Mommy was Thelma Belle Breedlove, born 1924 to Alfred Gaston Breedlove and Cora Lee Dehart.
The story goes that the doctor told Mommy after Harold was born that, because of the way her body was structured, she shouldn’t have any more children. So she had at least seven more, five of whom survived. Mommy was what she called, shortwaisted. That could be the reason she lost at least two children at or before birth. I don’t know how their bodies were disposed of, but I’m sure, knowing my Daddy, they had a proper burial, in a proper grave, even though it might not be marked.
We all lived in a little boxed and slatted house until 1963. Boxed and slatted houses had no frame. The walls were one inch thick boards of various widths. The cracks between them were covered on the outside by narrow 1/2 inch thick slats that kept out some of summer’s heat, winter’s coldest winds and an assortment of natures little creepy crawly things. The inside of the walls were covered by wallpaper held in place by short big headed nails called wallpaper tacks. Wallpaper tacks were noted for their ability to work their way out, fall to the floor, land there with the pointy end up, and then wait there patiently for the next barefooted kid who wandered by.
The house was covered by a ”tin” roof . A collection of various sized and shaped pieces of sheet metal that had been gleaned from the remains of older structures. That’s recycling at it’s finest. The metal was nailed to boards that were attached at a 90° angle to the rafters. The ends of the rafters were exposed allowing the wind to flow easily through. That is also where the birds, bees, and dirt daubers built their nests. And bats. And snakes.
On many a cold windy winter night one of those roofing pieces made its last valiant effort and was ripped back by the wind with a sound of a misshapen gong. If you were lucky enough to be snuggled up to somebody warm and you were lucky enough not to have peed on yourself and your source of warmth, you would pull the cover up over your head and hope the wind died down. Then it would die down and all would become peaceful and calm. Then just as you started to dose off you’d hear a small sound. It started as a low moan, like in the distance a cow had lost her calf. Then it increased to the cry of a mother who lost a child. Finally the sound rose to the scream of a lost soul being tossed into eternal damnation. Then WHAM that loose piece of tin started banging again.
For all the horrible howls the winter winds could create, the sweet sound of a summer rain was more than a match. Not even the sweetest lullaby over the lips of a loving mother whose child has already fallen asleep can rival the nocturnal whisper of a gentle rain on a tin roof.
The kitchen was a shed style addition to the main house. The kitchen roof therefore had less pitch and was more prone to leaks. Leaks were considered part of the structure in those days, so there was always a ready assortment of pots, pans, buckets and pails which hopefully hadn’t rusted themselves through since the last rain. Leaks from melting snow were less a problem as they dripped slower and the container emptied less often. Winter leaks sometimes became icicles and could be broken off and thrown outside. Or licked into eternity.
Our kitchen had three windows. One was in the outside door, one near the table, and one over the sink. The cook stove was a four eye ”Rome Eagle” with a hot water reservoir, a warming shelf and an oven thermometer which I don’t think I ever saw move. The stove sat between the table and the sink. The sink had a spigot that turned the cold water on and off. The hot water was on the stove when there was a fire going. The water from the drain ran out a pipe, across the back yard and into the little branch that ran behind a big black walnut tree.
Our early toilet facilities were of the detached shed roof design, consisting of four walls, a door with cracks more suited for looking out than in, and a wooden latch. It also included seating for one and most of the time disposable reading material. Unlike most of our environmentally unfriendly neighbors, who had two-seaters over the creek, ours was over a hole dug in the rocky ground. From time to time a new hole had to be dug, the little building sledded over it, and the old hole, containing artifacts of its time period, covered over with dirt.
Water was supplied to us by a little spring that ran out between some rocks up on the hillside behind the house. It wasn’t a torrent, just barely more than a trickle, but it never failed us. And it was good water. It had spring lizards in it. We couldn’t keep them out. It was the best water around and we knew it and the lizards did too.
Daddy piped the water from the spring to a little open concrete reservoir he had built to store enough water so as not to run out at peak times, if there had been any. The reservoir would freeze over in the winter and fill up with algae in the summer and leaves in the fall. The pipes had to be cleaned out from time to time, but overall it was a better system than some of the neighbors who had to dip water from the spring and carry it in the house in buckets or others that caught water from a spout in the branch.
Daddy had also built a little ”spring box” below the overflow from the reservoir. It was made of wood and covered with moss but it lasted several years and served very well as a refrigerator until we got electricity. It was probably more sanitary than our modern refrigeration systems because of the constant flow of cold water through it. Germs, being opportunistic creatures, would soon tire of doing the backstroke, and drift on to greener pastures.
If Daddy milked the cow, I don’t remember seeing it. Mommy always did it until some of us youngins got big enough to learn how. She would wash and scald the milk bucket with boiling water, then put hot water in the bucket to use to clean the cows tits. She took along a towel to dry the cow when she was satisfied the udder was clean. She poured water from the milk bucket into her cupped hand and gently washed the cow’s tits and sack. This gentle washing and massaging probably reminded the cow of her calf and induced her to release her milk. Mommy never let water from the washing get back in the bucket. After milking Mommy took the fresh warm milk back in the house and strained it through a washed and bleached white cloth into a half gallon jar that had been scalded in the last drainer of dishes. She then put a lid on the jar and set it in the spring box. She repeated this routine morning and evening, seven days a week, spring, summer, fall, and winter. The milk would stay in the spring box until it chilled and the cream rose to the top. Then it could be brought back in the house as needed.
Mommy saved the cream in another clean jar, always putting it back in the spring box after each new addition, until she had enough to do a “churning”. Then she would leave it out in a warm place until it ‘‘turned’’ soured. She would close the lid tightly and shake it back and forth to gather the butter. This process usually took fifteen or twenty minutes. The butter would start as tiny yellow globs hardly visible in the white cream, then quickly grow larger and begin to clump together forming a mass occupying about a forth of the jar. Next she spooned the butter out into a bowl and worked out the rest of the milk, added a little salt, wrapped it in waxed paper and put it and the buttermilk back in the spring box.
When we had more than one cow giving milk and more than enough to drink, Mommy would sour whole milk in a crockery jar and churn it that way, but it was never as good as butter made from the soured cream.
Then electricity came and the refrigerator changed all that. Nothing ever tasted the same but Mommy had it a little easier.
Daddy raised chickens. Not just a few for eggs and Sunday dinner. Daddy raised chickens to produce hatching eggs for other farmers to raise broilers and fryers. He couldn’t sell cracked, misshapen or double yolked eggs. So we ate eggs. And we needed only one rooster for every ten hens. So we ate chicken. And hens that weren’t the right breed and couldn’t mix with the pure breed couldn’t be sold or used. So we ate chicken.
People would come and buy eggs and chickens, but there was always still too many left for us. I remember one chicken killing well. Daddy was cleaning them and laying them out on a table made of two sawhorses and an old door. One of the neighbors’ dogs came up and couldn’t resist grabbing one of those chickens. When he took off with it, our old dog Pooch took off after him. Pooch came back in a little while with that chicken and laid it on the ground beside the table. Pooch was smarter than the average dog, because he didn’t put it back on the table. That chicken was awful dirty by then and needed to be washed again. Pooch knew not to put it back up there with the clean ones.
I hope you enjoyed reading about Ed’s childhood days as much as I did.